Austin Richie hit the go-ahead layup with five seconds remaining in regulation leading Western Michigan Broncos to a wild 53-52 win over the visiting High Point Panthers.
It was the Broncos’ fifth straight win after losing its first game of the season.
The Broncos were down one point with 14 seconds left, and Richie drove down the left baseline after failing to get the ball to Nate Hutcheson on a designed play and ducked under the basket to sneak in a swooping right-handed reverse layup.
The Panthers had one last chance to win the game as guard Dejuan McGaughy received the inbounds pass and raced down the court to attempt a running bank shot, but his attempt fell short and Shayne Whittington grabbed his tenth rebound of the night to seal the victory.
“We anticipated zone, but a smart coach makes adjustments. He switched it up, went to man. We wanted to go to our senior all-conference player (Hutcheson). They guarded him pretty well. I just went expecting them to be on their heels and they were, and I was fortunate enough to make (the shot),” Ritchie said.
Western Michigan managed to build a comfortable 33-21 lead going into halftime, but the Panthers used an added burst of intensity and zone defense to stifle the Broncos and climb back into contention in the second half.
“We did a really nice job in the first half executing the game plan, but I thought the first four minutes of the second half set the tone for the game. We came out with bad energy and a lack of concentration,” Coach Steve Hawkins said.
“Their zone bothered us. We weren’t aggressive against it at all. I think that’s something we will be able to look at in film and learn where we can be much more aggressive.”
The Panthers used a 19-6 run out of intermission to grab its first lead since the 17:22 mark of the first half, and Lorenzo Cugini buried a corner three to put High Point up 43-39 with 11:28 remaining.
Both teams kept battling in what turned out to be a highly physical game to tie the score up at 47-47 with 6:23 to play. A steal by Jared Klein turned into two converted free throws at the other end by Brandon Pokley, and after a big block in transition by Hutcheson, Richie led the break to find Pokley alone in the corner to bury a three-pointer to put the Broncos up 52-47.
The Panthers responded quickly with a jump shot by Allan Chaney and McGaughy converted a tough basket and foul at the rim to even back the score at 52-52.
John Brown made a free throw to put the Panthers on top 53-52 and they had one last chance to extend the lead but Adam Weary was unable to knock down a jumper with 21 seconds remaining.
Whittington secured the rebound and moved the ball past half court to take a timeout with 14 seconds to go, where Ritchie would go on to perform his heroics for the Broncos on their final possession of the game.
“High Point is a good basketball team. (They) have a lot of fight in them, tough kids. I told my guys I love how they play,” Hawkins said.
“So many times last year we learned lessons after a game like this where we lost (so) it was actually good. It was actually pleasant to get a win while we learned the lessons.”
For the Broncos, Darius Paul and Pokley each recorded their fifth straight double-digit scoring efforts, and Hutcheson put up nine points to go along with three huge blocks.
The Panthers received double-digit scoring efforts from forwards Brown and Chaney, as well as guards Weary and Cugini.
Western Michigan looks to extend its win streak to six games as they host Oakland at 2 p.m. on Saturday.